Archive for Life

Embrace the Gift of Life

July 7, 2016Lori[1]

On January 7th, 2016, my big sister, Lori Dempsey Robbins, passed away after an almost four year journey with ovarian cancer.  Lori was 45 and the single mom of our 11 year old niece.  She was my first friend and one of my greatest teachers
Being with her through her illness and her death was one of the most challenging experiences of my life.  There was so much sadness, pain, suffering, and fear involved.  The whole thing was very hard to face – for her, for me, and for all of us around her.  Trying to understand it all, make peace with what was happening, prepare for what was coming, and support her in a meaningful way was difficult, and, at times, seemed almost impossible.  It was an intense reminder of the ultimate vulnerability of physical life and the inherent powerlessness of being human.
 
At the same time, there were many moments of beauty, joy, gratitude, healing, and love – throughout her illness (even when it got really bad towards the end), as she died, and after she passed.  Lori and I experienced a transformation in our relationship over the past few years – we healed some old wounds and reconnected in a beautiful way, which was really meaningful to both of us.  She taught me and others a great deal as she faced cancer and death.  And, the love, support, community connection, and appreciation that showed up around her through her illness, as she was dying, and after her passing were truly remarkable.  She was loved and that love was expressed to her in many ways, and to all of us close to her, as she went through this painful process.
 
As my friend Glennon Doyle Melton says, life can be “brutiful,” (both brutal and beautiful at the same time).  Lori’s cancer, her death, and my own journey of grief these past six months have been the epitome of “brutiful.”  It is still surreal to me that she is gone.  I sometimes feel tempted to ask my wife Michelle, as I did often in those first few days and weeks after she passed, “Did that really happen?”  And, although I do feel Lori’s presence, have had a number of vivid dreams about her, and know it is possible for us to still connect and communicate in various ways, there have been so many times over the past six months when I’ve wanted to pick up the phone to call or to send her a text or email, only to remember I can no longer do that
 
Lori’s death, along with the deaths of our dad back in 2001 and our mom in 2011, leaves me as the sole living member of my nuclear family – yet another aspect of this experience that is truly disorienting.  I find myself feeling sad, scared, and lonely at times, as well as liberated, curious, and hopeful at other times.  All in all, it feels weird – like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
 
Through all of the twists and turns and the ups and downs of the past six months since Lori died and the past four plus years since she was diagnosed, I’ve learned a great deal (and am continuing to learn as I go).  As my big sister, Lori was one of the most significant teachers in my life.  Her teaching has continued, even through her death
 
Here are some of the key things I’ve learned through this experience so far, which even with all of the pain and sadness, I’m grateful to have learned and to share:
 
1) Say I love you – One of my sister’s friends said to me, “Lori was the first friend I ever said ‘I love you’ to – because she said it to me.  It used to drive me crazy and make me feel uncomfortable – we were in high school and friends just didn’t say that to each other.  But, I finally caught on and it is one of the things I loved most about her.”  Lori always said “I love you,” which is something we learned from both of our parents, especially our dad.  And, in the days and weeks after her passing, I was struck by the number of people who not only showed up with love and support for me and our family, but who actually said “I love you” to me – friends, family members, and even some business associates, colleagues, and clients.  In some cases these were people who had never said this to me before, but in the face of my grief, loss, and sorrow, they did.  It feels good to know we are loved and it is important that we let people know as often as we can, even if it feels scary, awkward, or uncomfortable to express it.
 
2)  Be Proud of Who You Are and Where You’re From – My sister took pride in so many of the important roles and associations in her life.  She was proud to be a woman, daughter, sister, and mother.  She was proud to be from Oakland, CA and a graduate of Skyline High, Wesleyan University, and UC Berkeley.  She was proud to have been born in 1970 and raised in the 70s and 80s.  She was proud of her Irish Catholic and Ukrainian Jewish heritage.  She was a proud sports fan of all of our teams here in the Bay Area, especially the Oakland A’s.  She loved being connected to and associated with lots of different people and groups.  I used to make fun of her when we were younger for this – I didn’t totally understand or appreciate it.  However, as I reflect back upon it, I realize that her commitment to people, relationships, and community manifested itself through her genuine pride and in her desire to enthusiastically claim connection to so many diverse groups, which was beautiful.
 
3) Don’t Waste Time Judging and Criticizing Yourself – As much pride as Lori took in where she was from and various groups she was directly or indirectly connected to, she didn’t always take pride in herself personally.  Like most of us, she struggled to feel good about herself and to believe in her inherent value.  As I was looking through lots of old photos from different phases of her life, I saw pictures of this beautiful, passionate, engaged girl, teen, young woman, and woman.  In addition to the joy and sadness I felt looking at these photos, it also struck me that Lori, like me and so many of us, wasted a lot of her precious time and energy over her almost 46 years on the planet criticizing and judging herself.  Whether it was her body and appearance, her relationship status, or her results in school, activities, or her career, she often felt like she wasn’tquite measuring up or wasn’t where she wanted to be
 
Why do we do this to ourselves? Although I do realize it’s normal for us to criticize ourselves at times or to think we’re not good enough, the truth is that at some point whether we’re 10, 25, 45, 70, 105, or somewhere in between, we’re each going to die (although we tend to live somewhat in denial of this important fact).  When we’re gone, someone will be looking back at photos and memories of us – do we want them thinking or saying, “Wow, I wonder why they thought they weren’t good enough?”  Or, would we rather them think or say, “Wow, they really lived their lives to the fullest…how cool that they were able to appreciate themselves and their lives the way they did.”  We have a choice about this – we don’t have to criticize and judge ourselves so harshly.  It really doesn’t serve us in any way to do this.
 
4) People Are More Important Than Things – As I stood up to speak at Lori’s memorial service, I was struck by so many different thoughts, feelings, memories,and insights.  There were people there from throughout her entire life – elementary school, junior high, high school, college, grad school, various jobs, companies, and communities, and more.  Even with all of the twists and turns of my sister’s life, she always placed a priority on relationships.  She taught me so many things about being a good friend, about how to communicate, about connecting people with each other, and about caring about people.  Lori was a connector and she was loyal – she always remembered people and cared deeply about them.  As we all gathered in that church in Oakland in late January to celebrate her life, and people who could not join us in person sat in front of their computers to watch the livestream of the service, the things we talked about, remembered, and shared about my sister had mostly to do with the kind of person she was and the relationship we had with her.  It wasn’t about accomplishments, awards, or things…it was about her, who she was (not what she did).  All too often we get caught up in the “things” of life.  And while there are some things in life that are truly important, in the end we are always reminded in a profound way that people are much more important than things.
 
5)  Embrace the Mystical and Spiritual Nature of Life – One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of physical death is the mystery of it all.  Why do some people die young while others live a long time?  What really happens when we die?  Where do we go?  Do we come back?  These and other questions like this have been pondered for generations and are at the heart of many of the world’s religious and spiritual teachings.  While there are many thoughts, ideas, descriptions, and, of course, disagreements to the answers to these important questions, there aren’t definitive explanations or empirical proof.  Making peace with these questions, to whatever degree we’re able to make peace with them, takes faith and a willingness to embrace the unknown.  And while our spiritual or religious beliefs play a major role in our perspective about this, one of the things I’ve experienced first-hand with the deaths of my dad, my mom, and now my sister (as well as a few other significant people in my life in recent years), is the inherent mystical and spiritual nature of death (and of life).  When we are close to someone as they die and/or we lose someone close to us, these questions about life and death are no longer theoretical, they are real and personal.  And, when we go through this experience, we come face to face with the mystery of it all.  Confronted with a lack of concrete proof or understanding, we have to tap into the mystical and spiritual realms, even if we don’t often do that or don’t know exactly what we believe in that regard.  
 
Similar to the phenomenon of people saying “I love you” to me in the days and weeks after Lori passed, I was also struck by the number of people talking to me in mystical or spiritual terms – letting me know they were praying for me, saying that Lori was safe in the hands of God, excited that Lori was reunited with my parents and others in heaven, talking to me about dreams of her and conversations on the other side, seeing rainbows, birds, butterflies, and other signs and knowing that was Lori sending a message, and more.  It seems that in the face of death, we feel a little safer and more comfortable thinking about, looking for, talking about, and sharing our insights, beliefs, questions, and ideas about the mystical and spiritual nature of life.  I love and appreciate this…and, I wonder why it often takes death for us to look for, talk about, or think aboutthings in this way.  Life is mystical and spiritual all the time, not just when someone dies…but it’s easy for us to forget this and/or feel uncomfortable thinking or talking about it in this way, for fear of being judged or separated from others based on our beliefs or questions.
 
I’m still deeply engaged in my journey of growth, discovery, and healing.  Lori’s death has had a profound impact on me.  I don’t totally understand it and probably never will.  I feel sad, confused, and disoriented as I continue to make my way through this process.  And, I feel grateful, joyful, and honored to have known my sister, learned from her, and for all of the gifts, blessings, and growth embedded in this experience, even as painful as it has been.  I also feel wonderfully and beautifully supported by some extraordinary people in my life as I navigate this process.
 
Life is a mystery in so many ways.  None of us knows how long we’ll be here or what’s going to happen next.  We each have a choice about how we choose to live in this moment.  Instead of waiting for it all to work out, make sense, feel good, look right, or be the “perfect” way we think it should be – what if we made a commitment to ourselves right here, right now to fully embrace the gift of life, exactly as it is?  It’s a simple concept…but a radical act!

How can you embrace the gift of your life right now? What support do you need to let go of what holds you back from doing this fully? Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or any questions you have below.

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Are You In The Game?

guantone baseballOctober 9, 2014

I’ve been fascinated by the Major League Baseball playoffs, which started a little over a week ago.  As a former baseball player and lifelong fan, I usually watch the post season games…especially when one of our local teams here in the Bay Area is involved.  This year, both local teams (the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants) made it to the playoffs.  Unfortunately, The A’s got knocked out right away.  The Giants, on the other hand, are still alive and playing quite well…they seem to have some real October magic the past few years.

Although my personal interest and allegiance to the teams I like are what drew me to pay attention to the playoffs this year, I’m seeing, yet again, so many great life lessons involved in these games.  What’s been remarkable about the baseball post season so far this year is how many close games, twists and turns, and unexpected outcomes there have been.  None of the four teams left in the playoffs were favored.  In other words, each post season series has involved an upset, including seeing the Kansas City Royals, the organization which I played for back in 90s, advance for the first time in 29 years.

While these close games, upsets, and unexpected outcomes have been exciting for the fans of the teams still alive (and baseball fans in general), they have also involved a number of very successful teams and players not performing up to the level which was expected of them.  As a former player myself, I always think about the individuals and teams who lose and fail, and my heart goes out to them, because I know how disappointing, embarrassing, and downright painful that can be.  However, that’s all part of the game – someone wins and someone loses.  And, in all sports which have an ultimate “champion,” everyone involved, except for the members of the championship team, ends up losing.

Of course this is just the nature of baseball, and life in many cases.  And, as important as we take pro sports in our culture, at the end of the day, most of us realize it’s not a matter of life and death (although when our team is involved, it’s easy to forget that).  However, this fear of failing and losing, and specifically doing so publicly, is something that impacts most of us at some level personally.  We go to extraordinary lengths in our lives to make sure we don’t fail or lose, and to definitely make sure we don’t do so publicly.

Unfortunately, in baseball, like in life, if we aren’t willing to fail and lose, and even to do so publicly, we’ve probably signed up for the wrong game.  There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide – playing the game of baseball, just like living life, is ultimately a dangerous and vulnerable endeavor.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or how talented you are, on any given day you can lose and cost your team the game, and possibly the entire season.

Clayton Kershaw who pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and is considered my most experts to be the best pitcher in baseball, not only signed a 7-year, $215 million contract before the start of the season, had one of the best seasons by a pitcher in recent history this year.  He’s going to win the Cy Young award for the best pitcher in the league, and may also win the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award (which is rarely given to pitchers).  He lost both of the games he started in the Dodgers’ series against the St. Louis Cardinals and didn’t pitch anywhere nearly as well as he did all season long.  He failed.  He lost.  He did so in a big, public way.  His team got eliminated, even though they were expected to advance.

However, with all of this thought about failing and losing, and doing so publicly…as the saying goes, “We can’t win if we don’t play.”  And, even worse than losing or failing, is that we often don’t even show up for the game.  Or, if we do, we sit in the stands and comment on the game, instead of actually getting in there and playing.  Life happens in the game, no on the sidelines.  It can be scary in the game.  Sometimes you get hurt.  Sometimes you don’t get what you want.  Sometimes you fail.  And sometimes you even lose, and do so in a public, painful, and humiliating way.  But, so what?  We’ve all played and lost…and survived.  What are we so afraid of?

As a mentor of mine said years ago, “You’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it.  You have to remember, no one ever has.”

Let’s stop trying to simply survive life, let’s get in the game and play.  And, if we have the courage to play, we may as well leave it all on the field and play with passion, heart, and authenticity.  Because when we do that, whether we “win” or “lose,” we can take pride in the fact that we showed up, put ourselves out there, and had the courage to go for it.

Where in your life are you in the game?  Where in your life can you put yourself in the game (even if you’re scared)?  Leave a comment here on my blog about this.

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Remember How Precious Life Is

June 19, 2014

I was deeply saddened to learn about the recent death of Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn.  Tony was a star for the San Diego Padres in the 1980s and 1990s.  In addition to being an incredibly talented and accomplished athlete, he had an infectious smile and personality.  I didn’t know Tony personally, but he was always someone I respected and admired – both for his skill and for the type of human being he seemed to be.

Given who he was and how he went about things, he seemed almost larger than life in many ways.  Hearing about his death shocked me.  It also had me pause and reflect on the precious nature of life, as I often do when I’m touched by someone’s passing.  In this week’s video blog, I talk about the preciousness of life and how we can live with more conscious awareness of it.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it.  You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

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Create Miracles Now

April 9, 2014

My friend Gabrielle Bernstein’s new book, Miracles Now, has had me stop and think more deeply about my own relationship to “miracles” and also how to create more of them in my life on a daily basis. As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” This is so true!

In this week’s video blog, I explore this idea of miracles and share a few things you can focus on to create more miracles in your life.

Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, or questions about this with me and others on my blog.

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Let Success Chase You

March 27, 2014

I recently read Wayne Dyer’s new book I Can See Clearly Now, in which he said something that had a profound impact on me, “I’ve never chased success…success has always chased me.”  As I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks, I realize that not only have I spent much of my life chasing success, the idea of letting success chase me (i.e. allowing it to show up with ease) is a complete paradigm shift from how I often operate and how we are mostly taught to create success.

In this week’s video blog, I explore this idea of letting success chase us and invite each of us (myself included) to let go of our attempts to control success, and instead to allow it to manifest through trust and faith.

Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, and ideas about letting success chase you here on my blog.

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Trusting the Synchronicity of Life

turn in autumnMarch 6, 2014

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I just finished Wayne Dyer’s new book I Can See Clearly Now, in which he recounts many of the pivotal moments of his life, the lessons he learned, and how he “can see clearly now” the meaning, purpose, and synchronicity of it all.  I loved the book and got so much out of it.

With my 40th birthday last month, I’ve been in a deep process of self-reflection and have been looking back on my own life and all that has unfolded in the past four decades.  I, too, can clearly see all of the amazing synchronicity that has led me to where I am at this moment.

Reflecting back on our lives and seeing how everything has happened for a reason is an important and powerful thing for us to do.  It’s also essential, although often more challenging, to trust that things are unfolding now and will continue to do so in the future, as they’re meant to.  As Steve Jobs talked about in his famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”

I had a profound “connecting the dots” moment on my birthday last month.  I went out to dinner with my wife Michelle, my sisters Rachel and Lori, and a few friends.  Lori pulled out a piece of paper and said, “As a way of honoring you on your 40th birthday, it felt important and appropriate for me to bring this and read it.”  She then began to read from a list of 40 life lessons called “Life According to Ed Robbins,” our father, who died back in 2001.

As she began to read from this list, I was both touched and a little confused.  After she got through the first few items, I stopped her and asked, “Lori, where did you get that?”  She stopped and looked at me, equally confused.  She said, “What do you mean, where did I get this?  I got it from you – you wrote it when dad died, don’t you remember?”

Amazingly, I had no memory of writing it.  But, apparently after my dad died, I made a list of some of his key philosophies and lessons, as a way to remember, honor, and memorialize him.  Even more amazing to me than the fact that I didn’t remember writing it (I actually have a pretty good memory in general and especially for stuff like this), was the nature of what I wrote.  So much of the advice on the list, which came from my father and what he taught me and all of us, is similar to the core themes of my work – particularly the book I just finished writing.

My father and I had a complicated relationship.  He and my mom split up when I was three, and by the age of seven he was in and out of our lives as he struggled with severe bi-polar disorder.  This was very painful for me and our entire family, as you can imagine.

Although he was able to get well by the time I was a teenager, our relationship remained challenging for many years and we never had a “traditional” father/son relationship.  Although I did learn many things from my dad, I have found myself at times over the past twelve years or so since he died, especially in the past eight since becoming a father myself, hanging onto this “story” that my dad didn’t teach me a lot of things that I wish I’d learned about life, manhood, marriage, fatherhood, and more.

I also find myself wishing he would have gotten a chance to meet his granddaughters, to see me as a husband and father, and also to see the work that I do.  He got very sick the final year of his life, which also happened to be the first year of my business, so he never got to see me speak and never got to read anything that I wrote (at least not in the context of the work I do now.)

However, reading this list of life advice and reflecting back on the lessons he did teach me, I’m not only struck by a deep sense of gratitude for what he taught me, but I’m also blown away by the way in which he influenced my life and my work, even more than I’d realized.

Below is the list, which contains a few inside jokes and references to funny things my dad did and said, but also contains a great deal of universal wisdom which I think you’ll appreciate.  I feel honored, grateful, and humbled to share with you:

Life According to Ed Robbins

  • Speak from your heart
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve
  • Be passionate and outspoken – do not let anyone stifle your expression
  • Have love be your top priority
  • Give kind, positive feedback as often as you possibly can
  • Remember that you are not your accomplishments – you are you, and people love you for who you are, not what you do
  • Remember that it’s okay to cry, in fact it’s good to cry often
  • Hugs and kisses are beautiful and greatly appreciated
  • Be grateful for your family and always stay connected with them
  • Make sure you “kiss and make up” after a fight
  • Cheer loudly at baseball games and always stand up when someone hits one you think might go out of the park
  • Stand up for the people that you love and be willing to fight for them, if necessary
  • Root for all your local sports teams – even if you have more than one team from the same sport near where you live
  • Drive slowly and carefully
  • Wait for all lights to change before crossing the street
  • Talk to strangers
  • Appreciate the beauty of where you are
  • Never get off the phone with someone you love without saying “I love you.”
  • Before saying something rude or contradictory, first say “with all due respect…”
  • Laugh loudly and often
  • Do not be afraid to get fired up, passionate, and raise your voice when necessary (and even sometimes when not so necessary)
  • Take lots of photos of people you care about and keep them organized
  • Save things that are important to you
  • Be romantic and remember important dates, experiences, and events
  • Sing the words to songs that you love
  • Read the newspaper and know what is going on in the world, in sports, in entertainment, and more
  • Have an opinion on everything!
  • Be willing to admit when you made a mistake
  • Forgive yourself and others
  • Be kind and loving to yourself first
  • Tell the truth
  • Stay true to yourself
  • Appreciate people
  • Remember that it is okay to swear sometimes
  • Remember that it is what’s on the inside that counts
  • Remember that it’s okay to feel down and to feel scared
  • Remember that people are the most important things in life
  • Remember that there is no need to rush when you are eating, driving, or doing almost anything
  • Remember that money is not that important
  • Remember that you can bounce back from anything

I love this list and his advice.  Both because of the simple and important wisdom of it, but also for what it represents – the synchronicity of life.  My 40th birthday has been an opportunity for me to heal, learn, grow, celebrate, reflect, dream, forgive, accept, and much more.

How about you?  As you reflect back upon your life and all the twists and turns it has taken up to this point, can you see how everything that has happened is interconnected?  As you do this, can you also look around at your life right now (and even out into your future) and trust that all of the dots are connected in some beautiful and magical way, even if it may not be abundantly clear in the moment?

Trusting in the synchronicity of life isn’t easy or even all that encouraged – most of us have more experience with worry and control.  Unfortunately, not only do worry and control not work, they end up sabotaging our experience of life and damaging us in the process.

It takes a great deal of courage and faith to trust in the synchronicity of life.  And, when we’re able to do so, we give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy life, celebrate the full experience of it, and learn, grow, and evolve along the way.  This trust is not a guarantee that everything will work out perfectly, there’s nothing in life that we can do which will guarantee that.  However, when we trust that life is unfolding as it is meant to, we’re able to get out of our own way, liberate ourselves from unnecessary suffering, and experience the beauty and depth that life has to offer.

Feel free to share your stories of synchronicity and/or how you practice trusting the synchronicity of life here on my blog.

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Life is “Brutiful”

exhibit from pompeiiApril 25, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

My wife Michelle and I recently went to see Glennon Melton speak about her new book, Carry On Warrior.  Glennon is a blogger from Florida who has a very successful blog called Momastery.com.  Her posts are read by tens of thousands of moms like Michelle (and others) around the world.  I thought I was attending the event to support Glennon’s new book and to support Michelle (since she loves what Glennon does so much).  And even though I was one of only a handful of men in the sea of a few hundred women at this event, I got so much out of it.

First of all, she’s a fantastic writer and speaker – funny, real, open, passionate, heartfelt, and inspiring.  I was inspired both personally and professionally by her presence, her talent, her humility, her message and her vulnerability.  Second of all, she kept talking about this idea that life is “Brutiful” (both brutal and beautiful at the same time).  After hearing her speak and reading her book and some of her blog posts, I started thinking about this concept of “brutiful” quite a bit.

Then the tragedy in Boston happened. I began to watch what was unfolding and feel my own intense range of emotions – the brutiful nature of life was playing itself out in a big way right in front of our eyes.  As awful as the bombings, shootings, and manhunt were (and still are), there was (and still is) so much bravery, beauty, connection, and love that has come out of everything that has happened; which is often the case when something horrible like this occurs.

While of course it’s much easier to contemplate this from afar and a completely different experience for those who were (and still are) directly impacted by the violence, I’ve been thinking more about some of the “brutal” and “beautiful” experiences of my own life and realizing that most of them have been (as most of life is) a combination of both.

My parents divorce, our financial challenges, my struggles with depression, my career ending baseball injury, the times I’ve had my heart broken in love, the deaths of my parents and some dear friends, and many other things I’ve experienced have been “brutal” in many ways – painful, sad, scary, and disappointing, among other things.  However, at the same time, each of these “brutal” experiences have also been incredibly beautiful on many levels – lots of growth, healing, discovery, and insight.  And, in addition to all that I’ve learned and gained personally from these experiences, they have also been (and continue to be) opportunities for me to connect with others and operate in life with a deeper sense of vulnerability, compassion, and openness.

There have also been lots of “beautiful” and wonderful things that have occurred in my life – getting into Stanford, playing pro baseball, marrying Michelle, having Samantha and Rosie, publishing my books, traveling to incredible places, and so much more.  And, as great as these things have been – there have also been many “brutal” aspects of each of these same things.

There are times Michelle and I look at each other in the throes of a parenting breakdown and without even saying a word our eyes say to each other, “What were we thinking?  This was a terrible idea.”

So if the most “brutal” experiences in life can also be “beautiful” and the most “beautiful” ones can also be “brutal” at times – I think Glennon is right when she says “Life is Brutiful.”  And, when we remember this, embrace it, and live with this awareness – it can create a real sense of peace, freedom, and connection with who and what matters most to us!

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Stop “Should-ing” On Yourself

August 30, 2012

 (For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

A few months ago one of my mentors said to me, “Mike, it sounds like you’re ‘should-ing’ all over yourself.” I laughed when she said this, as I’ve heard this saying many times before (and have even given this same feedback to others). However, something about her saying this to me at that particular moment caught my attention and struck me deeply.

As I started to take inventory of the most important aspects of my life – my marriage, my family, my friends, my health, my work, my spiritual practice, my finances, and more – I was a bit shocked to realize that much of my motivation in these key areas comes from the perspective of what I think I “should” do, say, or feel, and not from a place of what’s authentic and true for me.

As I look more deeply at this within myself, I realize that my obsession with doing, saying, or feeling the way I think I should, is actually less about a desire to do the right thing, and more about fear, shame, and a lack of self trust. When I operate from that place of should, it’s often because I’m feeling scared, flawed, or simply not confident in my own thoughts and beliefs.  This insecurity leads me to look outside of myself for guidance, validation, and the insatiable right way something should be done; which is often stressful, anxiety-inducing, and damaging.

What if instead of asking ourselves, “What should I do?” we asked ourselves different, more empowering questions like, “What’s true for me?” or “What am I committed to?” or “What do I truly want?”  These questions, and others like them, come from a much deeper place of authenticity and truth.

This is not to say that everything we think we should do is inherently bad.  That is clearly not the case.  Thinking that we should do things like eat better, communicate with kindness, exercise, follow up with people in a timely manner, spend time with our families, take breaks, save money, have fun, work hard, be mindful of the feelings of others, push past our limits, try new things, organize our lives, take good care of ourselves, focus on what we’re grateful for, and so much more – all can be very important aspects of our success and well being (as well as those around us).

However, when we come from a place of should our motivation and underlying intention for doing whatever it is we’re doing is compromised – even if it is something we consider to be positive or healthy.  In other words, we often feel stressed, bitter, resentful, worried, or annoyed when we’re motivated by should.  This “should mentality” is based on an erroneous notion that there is some big book of rules we must follow in order to be happy and successful.

The distinction here is one of obligation versus choice, or “have to” versus “get to.”  When we stop “should-ing” on ourselves, we’re less motivated by guilt, fear, and shame and can choose to be inspired by authentic desire, commitment, and freedom.

Here are a few things you can do to stop “should-ing” on yourself:

  • Pay attention to how much “should” runs your life.  Take some inventory of your life, especially the key areas and relationships, and notice how much of your motivation is based on “should.”  You may even notice how often the word itself comes out of your mouth in relation to your own actions and your thoughts or conversations about others.  The more you’re able to notice this, without judgment, the easier it will be to alter it.
  • Play around with different words, thoughts, and motivations other than “should”. If it’s not about what you (or others) “should” do, what are others words, thoughts, or motivations you could have?  How can you relate to the most important areas and people in your life differently?  Inquire into this and see what comes up.  It’s not simply about word choice (although words do have a great deal of power), it’s about altering where you’re coming from in a fundamental way.
  • Ask yourself empowering questions. As I mentioned above, instead of asking yourself the question “What should I do?” see if you can ask yourself more empowering questions – ones that lead you to an authentic and inspired place of motivation.  Here are some as examples, “How can this be fun?” or “What would inspire me?” or “What’s in alignment with my mission?” or “How can I serve?” or “What would make me feel good about myself?”  There are so many possibilities, once we let go of “should.”

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Your Feelings Matter

June 28, 2012

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I sometimes find it challenging to honor my own feelings – especially if what I want or feel seems to be at odds with other people, or my emotions don’t seem to be “appropriate” to the situation.  While I’m not someone who tends to hold back sharing my honest opinions, desires, and feelings and, over the years, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback from people close to me about talking too much, dominating situations or conversations, and being selfish – underneath all of this is a deep fear that my feelings and desires aren’t as important as other people’s.

It has been humbling to come to this realization about myself recently.  However, it has also been incredibly liberating to see this pattern and to ask myself the question, “What would it be like to honor my real feelings and to live my life knowing that what I want and feel is just as important as anyone else?”

Honoring our feelings isn’t about being self absorbed, arrogant, or better than anyone – it’s really about being true to ourselves, honest with how we feel and what we want, and willing to engage in authentic conversations with other people – even, and especially, when we don’t feel or want the same things that they do.

So why can it be so challenging for us to honor our own feelings?  Some of the primary reasons for this are:

  • We worry that people won’t like or approve of us
  • We don’t value ourselves in an authentic way (i.e. we think we’re not good enough)
  • We’ve been taught to put other people’s needs, desires, and feelings ahead of our own
  • We’re not comfortable feeling and expressing certain emotions
  • We don’t think we “deserve” to have what we want (i.e. we think we’re not important enough)
  • We haven’t been taught healthy ways to honor our feelings
  • We worry that we’ll be seen as selfish

These and other things get in the way of truly honoring what we feel and what we want in life.  Sadly, by not honoring our feelings we both discount ourselves in a painful, and ultimately damaging way, and we create separation between us and other people, often the most important people in our lives.

Here are a few things you can do to enhance your capacity to honor your own feelings:

  • Be Real About How You Truly Feel – The first step of any process is always about being real, first and foremost with ourselves.  Even if we feel unclear or uncomfortable with a specific situation or certain set of emotions or desires, the more willing we are to be real about what we truly feel and want, the more ability we’ll have to honor ourselves and be authentic with others.  Making it a practice of getting in touch with our true feelings is essential.  A great way to do this is through journaling. It’s not about justifying how we feel to anyone else, it’s about being honest with ourselves.
  • Stop Judging Yourself – One of the biggest things that can get in our way in life, in general and specifically when it comes to feeling our feelings and expressing our desires, is self judgment.  We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “If I share this, they will think I’m a terrible person.”  We use these self critical thoughts to suppress our true feelings, which can have significantly negative consequences on us and others. What if we just allowed ourselves to be real and to honor what’s true for us in the moment, without judging it?
  • Give Yourself Permission to Feel – Because of our self judgment, we sometimes don’t give ourselves permission to feel… especially certain emotions.  As human beings we tend to have a hierarchy of emotions – liking the “good” ones (love, joy, gratitude, peace, etc) and not liking the “bad” ones (anger, fear, hurt, powerlessness, etc).  However, at the deepest level, all human emotions have value and can benefit us if we’re willing to feel them in an authentic and healthy way.  Giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling is critical to our ability to honor and move through our emotions in a way that serves us, our relationships, and our life.
  • Let Go of Your “Story” – Many of us, myself included, are attached to our “story.”  We love all of the drama and all of the details that make up the relationships, situations, and circumstances in our lives (both past and present).  While our life story, as well as the details of specific relationships and circumstances in our lives, is important at some level, too often we get caught in the story and all the drama, which actually takes us out of our emotional experience.  Where we have real power is in feeling our feelings, not talking about them, rationalizing them, or explaining them – but in simply feeling them.  Human emotions are not sustainable – especially if they are authentically felt.  It only takes about a minute or two to genuinely feel and move through an emotion.  However, when we attach an emotion to a story, we don’t allow ourselves to truly feel it and thus can keep it stuck in place.
  • Get Emotional Support – As important as our emotions are to our lives, our well being, and our relationships, sadly we don’t get a lot of emotional training in life (through school, at work, and in general) and we don’t often have built in, healthy emotional support mechanisms in our daily lives.  We live in a world that is primarily focused on action, results, and appearances – none of which has anything to do with our emotional experience (even though our emotional experience is not only one of the most important aspects of our lives, but is what drives much of what we do and produce in life).  There are, however, many ways we can find or enhance our emotional support.  Most of us have certain emotional support structures in our lives that we’ve set up for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.  The key is for us to utilize these in a consistent and authentic way, as well as to make sure they are empowering us to honor ourselves and our emotional experience in life.

Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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